A former inmate claims ‘indifference’ by Lackawanna County Prison’s healthcare provider led to amputation

Their complaints are not taken seriously until it’s too late,’ attorney says.

Author: WNEP Web Staff | Published: 4:53 PM EST January 6, 2024

SCRANTON, Pa. — Locked in a cell at the Lackawanna County Prison, Ryan Curtis drained his painful and swollen toe and wrapped his wound in a sock provided at intake, a recently filed federal lawsuit alleged.

Curtis, 38, pleaded with his jailors for aid during his weeklong pretrial incarceration in 2022. Nurses and a doctor from the jail’s medical provider, Wellpath LLC, instead shot him disgusted looks, told him to wash his infected wound using his jail cell’s sink and gave him antibiotics that did not arrest the bacteria, the filings contend.

A surgeon amputated Curtis’s toe in February 2022. Nearly two years later, he filed a lawsuit seeking damages.

“They get inadequate medical care,” said local civil rights attorney Barry Dyller, whose firm represents Curtis and several other inmates in similar lawsuits. “Their complaints are not taken seriously until it’s too late…that’s why he lost a toe.”

Curtis filed a federal lawsuit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania last month seeking damages on four counts of negligence and three counts of denial of medical care. It names as defendants Lackawanna County, Wellpath and several nurses, correctional officers and a doctor.

Stuart O’Neal, an attorney representing Wellpath, said they could not comment. An attorney for the county could not immediately be reached.

Blakely police arrested Curtis on drug-related charges on Feb. 11, 2022, but first took him to Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton because he showed officers a blister on his toe causing him pain. An X-ray found that his toe was infected.

Doctors there sent a culture of his wound to a laboratory for analysis, bandaged Curtis up and discharged him with a prescription for clindamycin, an oral antibiotic.

Unable to post $50,000 bail for the drug charges, Curtis traded in a hospital room for a jail cell. His infection worsened during the week he spent at the county jail. In the lawsuit, Curtis laid the blame on the facility’s staff and their alleged negligence.

“Mr. Curtis’s injuries were the direct and proximate result of the deliberate indifference and/or negligence of the defendants,” stated the lawsuit.

The antibiotic did not work because the bacteria was resistant. The laboratory analysis of his wound determined that but the staff at the jail never found out because they did not follow up, the suit states.

Curtis was sent back to the hospital on Feb. 19, 2022. His wound had reached the bone of his toe. Surgeons had to amputate his toe on Feb. 21, 2022.

On Feb. 24, 2022, his bail was changed to an unsecured amount, meaning he could leave the jail. The reason, according to a court filing, was because he entered pre-trial services.

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of brought by Dyller’s firm, Dyller & Solomon, against Wellpath — the nation’s largest prison health contractor.

Lackawanna County and Luzerne County are among Wellpath’s clients; their contracts last until 2025 and 2026 respectively.

In December 2022, the estate of Mary E. Balliet filed suit alleging Wellpath and Luzerne County Correctional Facility staff stood by while she was “physically deteriorating and dying right before their eyes.”

That suit remains pending in federal court.

In March, Luzerne County agreed to pay a $780,000 settlement to the estate of a woman who died by suicide in the Luzerne County jail. Healthcare workers and correctional officers did not take her distress seriously, a lawsuit contended.

Last month — amid scrutiny of the company’s practices — a group of Democratic U.S. senators posed two dozen questions to Wellpath and H.I.G Capital, its private equity owner, regarding its operations. They wrote that complaints leveled against Wellpath have included denial of care, negligent care and inadequate staffing.

“While Wellpath asserts that its cost-cutting measures do not compromise the quality of services, extensive evidence suggests otherwise,” the senators wrote, citing press reports.

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